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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Why there are not more desalination plants for fresh water as oppose to sucking the groundwater dry?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26821points) November 18th, 2014

Recently 60 Minutes reported that thirsty economies are literally sucking the planet dry; depleting the groundwater. To do so is supposedly heading the planet for terrible times in the future as these underground aquifers either cannot catch up with the rainfall or takes decades or centuries if very deep. We have more than 50% of the planet as water in the oceans, science is not smart enough to find a cost effective way to use the water right in front of their face as oppose to water with limits on the bowels of the Earth? Even if the initial cost was more than people wanted to pay, decades down the road would it not prove to be a good investment, if we truly want to leave the world better off for future generations? Today with all this technology the science gods, still cannot figure a way to cheaply get the job done?

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13 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

Because it is cheaper to drain the groundwater than building a desalination plant. It all goes down to profit.

Gabby101's avatar

Desalination plants are not yet at a place where they can produce fresh water without using a lot of our other natural resources. I agree that more money should be put into this research though – might help with those rising sea levels ;)

It is much more effective to recycle the water we do use. Even sewer water can be made potable. In Southern California, they use it for landscaping, but there is no reason you can’t drink it. It would require the government to make investments in our infrastructure, though, which won’t happen until things are desperate. Politics prevent us from making good choices sometimes.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Desalination plants use enormous amounts of electricity (and other chemicals) to operate. So you’re trading off water and aquifers for more power plants – be they nuclear, coal, or oil powered. Solar and wind don’t supply enough power consistently just yet.

So pick your poison. None of the options are very good,

stanleybmanly's avatar

The bandit is correct on the major handicap. But in addition, desalination plants are practical on coastlines. Solar powered plants would be practical and most efficient in special places like tropical desserts bordering on oceans. The Middle East could benefit enormously from such schemes, but the prospects for the vast interior of a nation the size of the United States are understandably few. If Florida were less obtuse, the state would be going full out toward desalination powered thru solar technology. The place will be underwater in the foreseeable future, and saltwater will contaminate whatever water table remains to serve the islands of high ground in the wake.

Bill1939's avatar

One problem with desalination is that the brine produced damages desalinating equipment. Another problem how to dispose of the salt and other chemicals that seawater contains.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I pay $2.57 per 1000 gallons. That is 4 gal per cent. Or 15 litters per $0.01.

In my opinion that is way too cheap. If the price was 10 times higher people would conserve more and ground water would last longer – maybe until fusion power is perfected.

janbb's avatar

Israel has desalination plants. I think it will become more prevalent here as the Western drought continues.

zenvelo's avatar

Santa Barbara is a real life case to study.

Back in the 1980’s Santa Barbara had a terrible drought, much worse than anywhere in California. People were painting their dirt green because the lawns had died and the ground was hard as a rock. A desalination plant was built, and was ready to come online when the drought ended. The plant was put in “stand-by” mode.

Now, it is being prepped for reactivation. But the costs are huge: $28 million to reactivate, and the cost will be $5 million per year. And, there are environmental impacts beyond the energy use: the intake pipes are dangerous to sea life.

What we find in California is it becomes a priority until it rains, then it gets put back on the shelf.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Ground water is renewable so long as it’s used responsibly. desalinization is resource intensive and wasteful. Imagine though if that was not the case though…there would be enough salt for the whole world.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I saw the 60 Minutes too. Pretty shocking.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Gabby101 It is much more effective to recycle the water we do use. Even sewer water can be made potable.
You have to have a community large enough to produce enough water to make reclaiming viable, outside of large metropolitan areas, that is not much better than desalination.

@Bill1939 One problem with desalination is that the brine produced damages desalinating equipment. Another problem how to dispose of the salt and other chemicals that seawater contains.
That is what them smart boys at MIT are getting educated to do. I guess they are not bullet proof with all their technological education of they can be waylaid by a little brine. The salt can be exported to nations that can use it, used on road back East, or used on the dinner table (where does the salt come from now? It isn’t man-made). The other chemicals they can dispose of the same as those left over from making WMD, they always find a way.

@ARE_you_kidding_me Ground water is renewable so long as it’s used responsibly.
Using responsibly might mean taking too little to keep your orchard alive, I doubt people are thinking they are taking more than the earth can put back, or they simply don’t care because they will be dead by the time the sponge is dry.

hearkat's avatar

I’m not knowledgeable on the subject, but couldn’t the brine and salt be used to de-ice the roads in winter? There’s been a lot of money spent, and I recall that after last year’s brutal winter, a lot of towns ran out of salt.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central That’s just it, if the farm or orchard or city is too big to keep the aquifer sustainable it’s not responsible.

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